Episode 61 – “Cheesecake”

Posted: May 22, 2016 in Season 5
Tags: , , , ,

After the lack of deliciousness that ensued with the last episode, I was super anxious to make something I knew we would enjoy. Thank goodness cheesecake was next in line. I adore pretty much anything made with cream cheese, but especially cheesecake; oddly, I don’t eat cheesecake very often, which I think needs to be amended pronto.

My mom went through a cheesecake phase when I was a teenager. As you can imagine, it was one of the greatest periods of my life. As she strove to find the perfect cheesecake recipe, we got to sit back and test them all. From New York cheesecake to Italian cheesecake, and everything in between, she tried them all. I honestly don’t recall which cheesecake was deemed the favorite. I only remember that I loved them all.

Sour Cream Cheesecake

This entire episode of Good Eats focuses on one recipe for a sour cream cheesecake. I don’t know about you, but when I think of cheesecake, I think of a springform pan. Alton Brown, on the other hand, suggests that you do not use a springform pan for sweet cheesecakes, as they can leak when you bake the cheesecake in a water bath. Alton does not bake savory cheesecakes in a water bath, so he uses a springform pan for those; strangely, he never really explained why he does not use a water bath for savory cheesecakes. So, what type of pan does Alton recommend for sweet cheesecake? He likes a 9-inch round pan with 3-inch tall sides. Honestly, I was just going to use my springform pan to make this cheesecake… until I tested it in a pan of water. Sure enough, it leaked instantly, so I bought a pan like Alton suggested. Ok, so once you are ready to make your cheesecake, you will want to allow 20 ounces of cream cheese and 1 1/4 C sour cream to sit on your counter to soften while you prepare your crust. Prep your pan by brushing the inside of the pan with melted butter.

Next, line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper.

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Pan brushed with melted butter and lined with parchment paper.

Alton, of course, had a certain technique for cutting  paper to line the pan. Yes, I tried his method, but I screwed it up and ended up just doing it the way my Mom taught me when I was about 10 – tracing the pan with a pencil. Some things never change. For the crust of the cheesecake, put 33 graham cracker squares in a large ziplock bag and crush them with your hands until you have a mixture of crumbs and some slightly larger pieces.

Combine the graham pieces with 1 stick of melted butter and 1 T sugar, and toss everything to combine.

Pour 2/3 of the crumb mixture into your prepared pan, reserving the remaining crumbs for later. Using the bottom of a weighted glass (Alton used coins in his glass), tamp the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan.

Bake your crust for 10 minutes at 300 degrees, and set it aside to cool while you begin making the filling. You want the crust to be cool before pouring adding the filling to the pan.

To make the filling, beat the 1 1/4 C sour cream on medium-high speed in a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment. The sour cream will coat the bowl and keep the cream cheese from sticking. Next, add the 20 ounces of cream cheese, along with 1 C sugar; begin beating this mixture on low speed, increasing to medium.

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Cream cheese mixed in bowl to coat. Cream cheese and sugar added.

Note:  if you want insurance against your cheesecake cracking, Alton also suggests that you add 1 T cornstarch when you add the sugar, but I opted not to add the cornstarch. While the mixer works on the cream cheese mixture, in a separate container combine 1/3 C cream, 1 T vanilla extract, 3 egg yolks, and 2 whole eggs.

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Cream, vanilla, egg yolks, and eggs.

Scrape the bowl and paddle of the mixer, and slowly add half of the liquid mixture on medium speed. Once half of the liquid is incorporated, scrape the bowl again. Increase the speed of the mixer and add the rest of the liquid.

Keep the mixer running until you have a smooth batter with no lumps. Meanwhile, decrease the oven temperature to 250 degrees and boil 2 quarts of water for your water bath. The water bath will control how quickly heat goes into the cheesecake. When your batter is smooth, pour the batter over your prepared crust, popping any visible bubbles. Place a towel-lined roasting pan in the center of your oven and add your cheesecake to the pan.

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Cheesecake in roasting pan. Water to be added for bath.

Carefully pour boiling water in the roasting pan until it comes 2/3 up the sides of the cheesecake pan; for me, 2 quarts of water was perfect. Bake your cheesecake for 1 hour. When the hour is up, turn the oven off and open the oven door for 1 minute.

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Cheesecake after baking for 1 hour.

Shut the oven door and leave the cheesecake in the cooling oven for an additional hour.

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Completed cheesecake.

Remove your cheesecake from the oven and place it immediately in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours to cool. When you are ready to serve your cheesecake, fill your sink partially with hot water and dip the cheesecake pan in the water for ~10 seconds.

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Getting ready to serve cheesecake – dipping pan in hot water for ~10 seconds.

Next, dip a sharp knife in hot water and run it around the cake between the cake and the parchment paper; this should allow you to pull the wall-lining parchment paper out.

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Cheesecake after running a hot knife around the edges and removing parchment paper.

Place a sheet of wax paper on the surface of the cheesecake and invert it – a springform pan base works well for inverting.

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Inverted cheesecake.

Remove the final parchment paper circle and invert the cake again onto a serving platter. With a hot knife, cut the cake into slices, slicing straight down and pulling the knife out toward you, rather than up. Remember those left over graham cracker crumbs? If desired, toast them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes and pat them around the sides of your cheesecake. Voila! Cheesecake a la Alton.

Okay, so this was a pretty darn good cheesecake, but I wish I would have listened to my gut and baked it a little longer. Alton was so definitive about his procedure that I decided to follow it to a T, even though my gut told me my cake would need a little more time. Sure enough, my cake was slightly softer in the middle than I would have liked. Even so, it was delicious. Now, if you are looking for a super thick, dense cheesecake, this isn’t for you. This cheesecake has a lighter, fluffier texture, while still being super rich and tangy. Ted is not as fond of cheesecake, or cream cheese for that matter, as I am and he really liked the texture of this cheesecake. I will make this again, but I will either cook it longer initially or I will not open the oven door for that one minute. Alton emphasized that cheesecake is like eggs:  done in the pan means overdone on the plate. I also might bake the crust just slightly longer initially, as it could have been a tad crispier. Still, we ate every last bit of this, and enjoyed it.

Savory Cheesecake

Although Alton did not make a savory cheesecake in the episode, there is a recipe online for a savory cheesecake from this episode. I tend to print all of the recipes out prior to watching an episode, so I printed this savory cheesecake recipe out, planning to make it when we had my parents over for dinner. Though Alton did not make this in the episode, I decided to make it anyway, using the end of my Alton Brown smoked salmon.

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Alton’s savory cheesecake.

The filling on this cheesecake was really good, but the crust was chewy and disappointing. If I were to make this again, I would make an alternative crust. But, I probably won’t waste my cheesecake-making on this again. Instead, I’ll make Alton’s sweet cheesecake again, tweaking the baking time.

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